Tag Archives: Tallis Steelyard

Beads and No Socialising

Modesty forbids me from entitling an article, ‘Why on earth do I need to
hire Tallis Steelyard to run my evening!’ There again, I barely need to, I
am far more likely to be contacted by somebody desperate for me to enliven
what would otherwise be a long and tedious evening than I am to be harangued
as a waste of money.
But it was listening to Maljie and several other ladies discussing these
matters that provoked me to write. Here in Port Naain, there are any number
of groups who meet for various purposes. We have everything, we have
philosophical and debating societies, groups who meet to chat together as
they knit, political clubs dedicated to the overthrow of civilisation as we
know it, we even have literary and poetry societies. Frankly, I wouldn’t rate
any group more highly than any other. They meet a need. People can talk, get
things off their chests, keep abreast with what is going on and return home
feeling that they have had a pleasant enough evening. Frankly what more can
you ask? Perhaps the best carrot cake I have eaten was at a meeting of a
political club I was asked to address (I can no longer remember why) and the
shrewdest questions were asked by a group of ladies who never dropped a
stitch as they listened to me squirm as I tried to answer.
Given the number of groups that there are, Aea alone knows what possessed a
very previous incumbent to from a ladies social circle for the Shine of Aea
in her Aspect as the Personification of Tempered Enthusiasm. I suppose it
served two purposes. One was that it built a sense of community amongst
those worshipping or otherwise linked to the shrine. Secondly, I suppose he
hoped it would keep them out of trouble. At least whilst the ladies were
attending the social circle meetings they weren’t out drinking and fighting.
The problem is that these societies need people who will drive them. People
who will do the basic work that is necessary. In the case of the social
circle, it wasn’t as if there was any problem booking rooms, they always met
in the shrine. Similarly, they had their regular evening so they didn’t have
to tell people when to come to the meeting, everybody knew already. Yet the
most important job, the most difficult one, was to find some form of
interesting entertainment.
There is a list. It isn’t long, it isn’t official, but everybody who gets
the job as secretary of one of these societies soon manages to get their own
copy. It consists of the names of the people who are worth inviting to
speak. If your group meets monthly, allowing for two meetings without
speakers when you ‘entertain yourselves,’ that still means you need ten
speakers a year. Also, you don’t want speakers coming back too often, so the
list really needs fifty names. Frankly, you’d be lucky if your list had a
score of speakers on it.
So secretaries improvise. They ask the friends of friends to speak. They
listen to gossip and if somebody is mentioned as being comparatively
interesting, they will hastily book them. Soon desperation sets in. Elderly
clerics are dragooned into telling their tales of ministry in the wilder or
more distant climes. Various performing artists will be summoned, not to
perform (because they charge for that) but to talk about being a performer.
Now I have no doubt that you might be an excellent musician, but it doesn’t
mean you can talk wittily and entertainingly about it. Indeed the social
circle once invited a mime to talk about their art. Frankly, it would have
gone better if they had given the talk in mime but instead, in a dull
monosyllabic drone, they showed by their talk exactly why they get their
mouth shut whilst working.
Then you have the old stalwart, arts and crafts. Few painters can pain
quickly enough and well enough to hold an audience, but there are other more
esoteric crafts. I have known people who created mosaics from the glass you
get from broken wine bottles. Obviously, there is black, green, amber and
some rare cobalt blue as well as the more usual transparent. Each piece is
cut to shape with a special bladed hammer that reminds me of nothing as much
as a toffee hammer. The piece is then filed perfectly to shape. One couple
had a mosaic in their hallway, the centrepiece of the room. It looked
absolutely stunning but it had taken fifteen years to create. I can think of
few things more boring that having them take over an hour to explain how
they did it.
Mind you, Maljie claimed that she had a speaker who could beat them for
tedium. This lady came to discuss making bead bracelets. The talk consisted
of watching her slide one bead at a time on a piece of thread, whilst she
told you what colour the bead was. It may have been that the sequence of
colours had some ritual significance because when the ladies were allowed to
try doing their own, Maljie was most sternly talked to for altering the
sequence.
Which brings us to the most important part of these associations, the
comradeship, the meeting and greeting, the chatting together. Whether the
group gathers to share herbal infusions and coffee along with some nice
cakes or to drink pleasant wine along with some spicy nibbles, doesn’t
matter. It is the time spent chatting, relaxing in decent company. For some
ladies, it might be the only chance they get to unburden themselves to
another sympathetic lady. If you accomplish nothing else, make sure that the
event includes plenty of time for this sort of thing.
Yet you’ll find groups where members do not linger. Once the speaker has
spoken, many of the members flee. I have pondered this phenomena. Setting
aside the most unlikely option, that they attend the meeting purely because
they are utterly fascinated by the speakers (given the very diverse nature
of the speakers I cannot imagine anybody being interested in them all) then
all I can think is that they regard the event as ‘somewhere I have to be
seen’. Some of these meetings as so dull I would only attend them if I
desperately needed an alibi. I could have serious concerns about both the
social life and social priorities of the person who felt that it was
necessary to be ‘seen’ at those meetings.
But sometimes the speaker can rescue matters and help build the community.
Maljie mentioned the occasion when there was a talk about knitting. During
the talk, the oil in the lantern ran out and light was provided,
inadequately, by a couple of candles. Somewhere in the gloom was a speaker
who was discussing ‘competitive knitting.’ Apparently, this is remarkably
popular in some circles and is taken inexplicably seriously. Horrendous
crimes can be committed as those at the leading edge of this particular
fancy cut corners or cheat to achieve award-winning results. Apparently, the
concubines of Partannese bandit lords have been known to cease their
poisonings long enough to write strong letters complaining that mixing
alternate bands of knitting fool, faggoting and tricot is not merely poor
taste but is absolutely unethical.
During this talk, Maljie was awakened from slumber by a voice whispering,
“Maljie, are you awake.”
“No. Let’s go down the street to the nearest public house and get a drink.”
Legend is silent as to whether anybody remained to propose a vote of thanks
to the speaker, who droned on as her audience stealthily left. Still, I am
assured it was a truly splendid night in the four ale bar and everybody
agreed that this is what being a ladies social circle was all about.
And now a brief note from Jim Webster. It’s really just to inform you that
I’ve just published a full Tallis Steelyard novel. Yes, the rumours are true.
Tallis Steelyard, the man who considered jotting down a couple of anecdotes
to be ridiculously hard work, and considered the novella form to be the very
pinnacle of literary labour, has been cozened into producing a novel.
It is, ‘Tallis Steelyard. A Fear of Heights.’
In this novel, recounted by Tallis Steelyard in his own inimitable manner,
we discover what happens when the hierarchy plots to take control of the
Shrine to Aea in her Aspect as the Personification of Tempered Enthusiasm.
Will the incumbent be exiled to a minor fane in the far north? Will Tallis
end up having to do a proper job? Does ordination and elevation beckon for
Maljie?
This story includes the Idiosyncratic Diaconate, night soil carts,
Partannese bandit chieftains, a stylite, a large dog and some over-spiced
food. On top of this, we have not one but two Autocephalous Patriarchs and a
theologically sanctioned beggar.
Available both for kindle and in Paperback.

Cleaning Up

Sandi the Broom is a sweeper. According to Mutt, who I suspect may be
considered definitive in these matters, she was the first. As far as I can
make out, she abandoned what had been her home and at the age of about six
or seven took to the streets to fend for herself. At some point, she acquired
a broom. Whether she brought it to the streets with her or picked it up
there, nobody has been able to tell me. Also, within a week or two of
arriving on the street, she found a bucket as well.
Her method of working is simple. She will start at one end of a street and
just sweep it clean until she arrives at the other end. Horse muck and
similar goes into the bucket. Small coins and other potentially valuable
items are tucked into pockets secreted about her clothing.
Obviously, you need to choose your streets. Ropewalk would be perfect were it
not for the fact that it’s too busy to even consider. (Although she does
occasionally contemplate sweeping it late at night. Only her well-developed
sense of self-preservation has prevented her.) Equally obvious was the fact
that there was no point just going back to the start and beginning again.
She developed a ’round’. Six streets which she would sweep, one a day. The
sixth and last street brought her back to the start again. This allowed
debris to accumulate, thus meaning it was worth sweeping again.
Another issue was the nature of the street. You didn’t want something too
busy or it gets dangerous. Similarly, quiet streets never accumulate much.
The perfect street is busy at times, has at least some houses with gardens,
and is a comparatively prosperous area. After all, you didn’t want a street
inhabited by dwellers who would happily crawl the length of it on their
hands and knees looking for a ten dreg piece they thought they’d dropped.
After a few weeks on the streets, she started to build up a network of
customers. Certain houses contained a keep gardener who was happy to buy her
bucket of horse muck and miscellaneous sweepings for the compost heap.
Similarly whilst coins are of universal utility, other things that she finds
can be cashed in if you know your markets. On one occasion it was obvious
that she was following an absconding troubadour, doubtless fleeing an
outraged husband. She found two guitar plectrums, three spare strings, one
gent’s shoe, and perhaps a vintenar in miscellaneous copper coins.
Knowing your customers is important in this trade. The perfect house to sell
your bucket of assorted sweepings is one where the gentleman of the house is
a keep gardener. As you knock confidently at the side door you can be sure
that the maid will sigh, roll her eyes in good-natured exasperation, and
summon her master. He will beam with pleasure, tell the cook to give you a
new loaf, split, and plastered with butter. He will personally cut a good
chunk from the cheese which sits on the table in the dining room. There’s
even the hope of an apple from the maid.
If your customer is just the gardener, then he’ll doubtless be pleased, but
he lacks authority with the cook. Thus when he comes out of the house to pay
you, he’ll rather shiftily hand you the loaf from the bottom of the bread
bin, no butter, and the last of the cheese before the mouse-traps claim it.
Then when it comes to selling what you’ve found, shoes are easy. Several of
the rag shops take them. They don’t pay a lot, twenty-five dregs at most.
But then, from their point of view, it’s a speculative investment. One-legged
purchasers aren’t common. There’s a chance that you’ll get a mate to the one
you’ve bought, at which point you’re in the money. It’s even possible for
the owner to appear and to buy it back. But in this latter case, they never
pay well, and only with considerably chuntering and moaning. As the owner of
one of these emporia commented to me, “There are times I do wonder why I
bother. The trade isn’t worth the candle.”
Otherwise, for Sandi the Broom it was a case to knowing your market. One
second-hand shop gave her a good blouse that almost fitted her in return for
the plectrums and guitar strings. In other cases, she has received a reward
for finding a glass eye whilst a gold tooth is a genuine treasure to be
secreted away as a reserve.
On top of all this, she is also a ‘watcher.’ That’s how I came across her.
She will keep an eye out for things and pass the news on to Mutt. Obviously,
the streets she cleans have their own watchers, small children innocently
playing, or sitting silently under the eaves. But from Mutt’s point of view,
these are a nuisance. They work of other, doubtless competing, aspiring
crime lords. Sandi covers more ground, but in less detail than these other
watchers, but still, any information she sells him enables him to keep an
eye on the area.
Mutt once asked me to pass on a message to her and to buy her a meat pie as
part of her wages. (Marvel at the confidence he reposes in me!) As she
devoured the pie we discussed work and life on the streets. She does have
ambitions. One possible way forward is to go into service with one of the
houses on ‘her’ streets. She has kept her eyes and ears open and there are
houses she would work in. She makes a point of treating housekeepers and
butlers like the aristocracy they are should she meet them in the street,
and even downstairs maids will get a polite little curtsy from her.
Her confident expectation is that in the next year or so she will be offered
a place as, ‘the girl as does’ in one of her chosen houses. This will
guarantee her a bed, a roof that doesn’t leak, and regular meals. Ensconced
in such unaccustomed luxury she pointed out that if she couldn’t progress to
be a housekeeper in her own right, it would be her fault.
On the other hand, I could detect signs that part of her would regret
abandoning her own business and the independent life. As she said, if she
found a few more gold teeth she might set up a stall of her own, and
perhaps, if Lady Luck smiled on her, open a second-hand emporium in an empty
shop. As she said, she knows Mutt, he owes her, and with his street children
behind her, she could soon stock it.
And now a brief note from Jim Webster. It’s really just to inform you that
I’ve just published two more collections of stories.
The first, available on kindle, is ‘Tallis Steelyard, preparing the ground,
and other stories.’
More of the wit, wisdom, and jumbled musings of Tallis Steelyard. Meet a
vengeful Lady Bountiful, an artist who smokes only the finest hallucinogenic
lichens, and wonder at the audacity of the rogue who attempts to drown a
poet! Indeed after reading this book, you may never look at young boys and
their dogs, onions, lumberjacks or usurers in quite the same way again.
A book that plumbs the depths of degradation, from murder to folk dancing,
from the theft of pastry cooks to the playing of a bladder pipe in public.
The second, available on Kindle or as a paperback, is ‘Maljie. Just one
thing after another.’
Once more Tallis Steelyard chronicles the life of Maljie, a lady of his
acquaintance. Discover the wonders of the Hermeneutic Catherine Wheel,
marvel at the use of eye-watering quantities of hot spices. We have bell
ringers, pop-up book shops, exploding sedan chairs, jobbing builders,
literary criticism, horse theft, and a revolutionary mob. We also discover
what happens when a maiden, riding a white palfrey led by a dwarf, appears
on the scene.

A Licence to Perform

I confess that morning, as I breakfasted on the steam packet, the
Unrivaled, I awaited the rising tide with growing trepidation. Nonetheless,
from my position aft of the funnel, I could see no suspiciously casual groups
of overly muscled men moving in our direction. Indeed all our party arrived
on time, boarded and we cast off at the hour appointed.
But we were barely fifty yards from the wharf when there was a commotion, a
lady with two men and a handcart was waving and shouting at us. It was
Nilinda. She is a very accomplished marimba player. In all candor, she was
the person to go to in Port Naain if you needed a marimba playing. Whilst
her professional life was settled, her private life was less stable. She had
been the mistress of Hulan Dorca for at least fifteen years. During this
period Hulan had courted and married two wives, and Nilinda had raised no
objections. But for some reason when Hulan married his third wife (He had
divorced the two previous incumbents prior to this. Hulan may have practiced
serial polygamy but was never actually bigamous.) Nilinda seems to have
objected strongly. Apparently, she didn’t object to the marriage, she
objected to Hulan and his new wife going away for a week’s honeymoon.
Now whether she had expected to be invited along I don’t know. Indeed I
didn’t dare ask. But she took this slight (as she saw it) very badly. So
badly that when the happy couple left, Nilinda summoned Master Bullifant to
the house. He was at the time an auctioneer but did house clearances as
well. Because she had a key, she let him into the house, he appraised the
contents, (everything but the marimba) and listed everything for sale. Three
days later, he’d cleared the building. Even the cracked chamber pots stored
in the servants’ attic had been taken and listed. The sale was a big
success. Nilinda watched it from a shadowy corner at the back. Bullifant
paid her cash, less the seller’s commission, before she left.
The next morning when she awoke, in a house empty save for the marimba, the warm
glow of satisfaction that she had felt the previous day had evaporated
somewhat. Nilinda decided that she might be better savouring her victory at
some distance from Port Naain. Then remembering our enterprise she decided,
not entirely unreasonably, that it would proceed better with a marimba
player. So she stepped outside into the street, pointed to two men at random
and said, “You and you, fetch that handcart from over there and accompany me
to the docks with my marimba.”
The two men obliged. I suppose you can see their point. There was a
possibility this woman might pay them. Certainly, there was a story here and
they could probably get free drinks on the strength of it. Also at the end
of the day, there was the opportunity to sell on the perfectly good handcart
that she had apparently gifted them with.
With a marimba and one carpetbag, Nilinda and her small party almost ran to
the docks. After all, Hulan and his third wife were expected back that day.
When she saw us leave she was a little put out and tried to attract our
attention from the wharf. She succeeded in this and hired a boatman to take
her, her carpetbag and the marimba out to the Unrivalled. She even paid off
the two men who had pushed her handcart. They stood on the wharf and watched
her leave. Then over a beer paid for by their earnings, they decided that
they would go into business together. After all, they got along well, worked
together amicably, and had acquired a handcart. Prosperity beckoned.
Nilinda came aboard the Unrivalled and announced she had succumbed to our
blandishments and would indeed join our party. I shrugged this off. She was
a musician, she was Old Jerky’s problem. He merely pointed out to her that
she got the same rate of pay as everybody else and if she didn’t like it,
she could swim ashore taking her marimba with her. Graciously she acquiesced
to his terms.
The voyage itself was trying. The Unrivalled tended to roll a bit and many
of our party were seasick. Unfortunately, Nilinda seemed immune to the
condition and whatever the state of the sea she would insist on practicing
her marimba, and demanding that other musicians practiced with her. Thus it
was with some relief that I stepped ashore after our voyage on the steam
packet. Yes, steam might be more reliable than the wind, and there is a
certain majesty in the thrashing of the paddlewheels. Unfortunately the
Unrivalled had carried hides into Port Naain and then immediately loaded our
company and set off south. The stench below decks was not to be described,
never mind experienced, whilst above decks we had a lot of sick people
hanging over the rail being ill to a music accompaniment.  I will merely
point out that whilst the little ship did not lack ambiance, it was an
ambiance that clung, and it took three washings before I could get it out of
my shirts.
As we steamed between Ragged Head and the Snaggles I thought there was some
mistake. On the south bank was Travitant Quay, a well-appointed little town
with quays and wharfs and all the panoply of thriving commerce. On the north
bank was Slipshade which appeared to lack all these things. Indeed Slipshade
had a disreputable air, the only thing in good repair seemed to be the
defenses. Still, when our captain blew the whistle, a bunch of sturdy rogues
lounging on the beach pushed out a floating jetty and we drew alongside
that.
With almost indecent haste the crew got us and our impedimenta onto the
jetty and then backed away, apparently keen to collect another cargo of
hides from Travitant Quay.  I advanced along the jetty, wearing my most
winning smile. “Greetings. I am Tallis Steelyard and we have come to perform
for you.”
There was a general scratching of heads at this announcement. Finally, one of
ne’er-do-wells was pushed forward as a spokesman. “What you performing?”
“Wonders such as the fine metropolis of Slipshade has never seen before.
Dancers of breath-taking beauty, singers who can sing songs which will haunt
your dreams, musicians who can charm the birds down from the trees. Plus of
course a pie-eating contest and consummate prestidigitation fresh from the
theatres of Port Naain.”
“Ah, pie-eating.”
Well, it was good to see we’d touched a chord there.
“You’ll have to go up to the Keep to get a license to perform. Just leave
your stuff here, we’ll look after it.”
I’m certain they would. The minute our backs were turned they’d diligently
search through our possessions, find anything of value and treasure it as if
it was their own. As it was I left the dancers to look after our luggage,
with Old Jerky and his band to protect the integrity of both luggage and
dancers. I took Flobbard and Malinflua with me to the Keep. Malinflua at
least was presentable, and she’d given evidence of considerable
intelligence. Not only that but frankly I didn’t really trust either of them
out of my sight. Flobbard’s larcenous instincts tended to override his
common sense at times.
It is a steep walk up to the keep, the road tends to wind backward and
forwards as if reluctant to be associated with so grim a destination. At the
gate we were nodded through, the dozing villain on guard barely bothering to
open his eyes long enough to look at us. He merely pointed to the main
tower, grunted and went back to sleep again.
As we entered the main hall of the tower we arrived to a shouting match. As
I stood at the door I could see Darstep Balstep, lord of the keep, seated on
his great chair obviously listening to some dispute. It might be he was
sitting in judgment. Certainly, he was wearing a scarlet cloak over his
battered leather armour and on his head he wore a heavy silver headband to
hold his hair in place. It was obviously a prestigious piece of jewelry,
it had three large stones in it, each perhaps the size of the end joint of a
man’s thumb. In a more well-regarded setting, you might even have described
it as a crown.
In front of him, there were two groups of men engaged in furious argument.
Nobody had pulled a knife but from the way the insults were flying it was
purely a matter of time. Then Balstep saw us, or rather I suspect he saw
Malinflua.
“Oy, you by the door.”
I placed my hand on my chest as if to ask if it was me he was addressing.
“No, you streak of misery, the woman. Who is she?”
Malinflua stepped forward, “Do you mean me, Sire?”
“Well I don’t mean the beslubbering flap-mouthed moon calf you came in
with.”
I rather assumed it was Flobbard he was referring to at this point.
“Do you have a name woman? Or do I have to keep shouting ‘hey you!”
With this Balstep leapt to his feet and strode majestically through the
crowd towards us. Or at least that is what I assume his intention was. I am
reasonably positive he hadn’t intended to trip over something, whether his
cloak, his feet, or the feet of some other person, and measure his length on
the floor. His crown fell off his head and rolled across the floor towards
us. I ignored it and dashed forward to help him up, only to recoil from his
breath. He was impressively drunk.
“Where’s my bluidy crown?”
“Here your lordship.” Malinflua had pushed through the crowd next to me and
offered him the crown.
He stared owlishly at it and then took it off her. “The stones have gone.”
With this another argument started up. His followers split into rival groups
accusing other groups of stealing the stones. Then one, perhaps more sober
than the others shouted, “Search the woman, she picked the crown up.”
Everybody turned to Malinflua, who seemed to have acquired a wicked-looking
knife with a blade of obvious utility. “I’m not having you drunken sots
fumbling with me, but find a woman and I’ll let her search me.”
There was a long silence as those present contemplated the options open to
them. Finally one of the women who had been serving table stepped forward
and methodically searched Malinflua. The woman turned to Balstrep. “She
hasn’t got the stones on her.”
Malinflua stepped back next to me and ostentatiously sheathed the knife.
“Right, now you better search my two companions as well, before some drunken
fool makes more silly accusations. The serving woman, with a brief glance at
Balstrep, did as Malinflua suggested.
“Neither of these two has the stones either.”
“Well, who’s got the bluidy things then?” Balstrep asked, a little
plaintively.
“Sire, I am a poet
Not a watchman.
Still my advice,
Should I owe it?
Search the men of your clan.
In a thrice.”
I bowed. “I trust we have your permission to withdraw and prepare the
entertainment was have brought for your delight.”
“Entertainment?” Balstrep sounded suspicious.
“Pie eating contests, beautiful dancers and the usual sort of thing.”
Balstrep seemed to be contemplating my offer. “Aye, shut the door on your
way out. When I’ve got this lot searched I’ll be down to see what’s going
on. Will there be any poetry, I’ve always been fond of the rondel form?”
And now we’d better hear from Jim Webster.
So here I am again with another blog tour. Not one book but three.
The first is another of the Port Naain Intelligencer collection. These
stories are a bit like the Sherlock Holmes stories. You can read them in any
order.
On the Mud. The Port Naain Intelligencer
When mages and their suppliers fall out, people tend to die. This becomes a
problem when somebody dies before they manage to pass on the important
artifact they had stolen. Now a lot of dangerous, violent or merely amoral
people are searching, and Benor has got caught up in it all. There are times
when you discover that being forced to rely upon a poet for back-up isn’t as
reassuring as you might hope.
Then we have a Tallis Steelyard novella.
Tallis Steelyard and the Rustic Idyll
When he is asked to oversee the performance of the celebrated ‘Ten
Speeches’, Tallis Steelyard realises that his unique gifts as a poet have
finally been recognised. He may now truly call himself the leading poet of
his generation.
Then the past comes back to haunt him, and his immediate future involves too
much time in the saddle, being asked to die in a blue silk dress, blackmail
and the abuse of unregulated intoxicants. All this is set in delightful
countryside as he is invited to be poet in residence at a lichen festival.
And finally, for the first time in print we proudly present
Maljie, the episodic memoirs of a lady.
In his own well-chosen words, Tallis Steelyard reveals to us the life of
Maljie, a lady of his acquaintance. In no particular order we hear about her
bathing with clog dancers, her time as a usurer, pirate, and the
difficulties encountered when one tries to sell on a kidnapped orchestra. We
enter a world of fish, pet pigs, steam launches, theological disputation,
and the use of water under pressure to dispose of foul-smelling birds. Oh
yes, and we learn how the donkey ended up on the roof.
All a mere 99p each

Performance Art – Tallis Steelyard

Performance art
I realise I might occasionally have been disparaging about performance art and street theatre. It’s nothing personal. Admittedly I feel that some performance artists ought to realise that merely standing on one leg shouting your verses into a howling gale doesn’t make them better verses. Similarly, with street theatre; it still works better if you’ve learned the script. I don’t care if it is ‘improvised.’ You’ve still all got to have some vague idea what is going on. After all, if you cannot understand it, what hope has the audience got?
Admittedly I do succumb to the temptation to ridicule performance art more easily when I’m in the company of Lancet Foredecks, if only because he is one of the leading practitioners. Thus one morning he almost stormed out of the Misanthropes Hall, after I’d twitted him about the previous day’s offering. He’d intended to produce a deeply significant work about a man torn between food and drink. So he had a plate of sausages and a bottle of wine. He would place the sausages off to one side of the pavement and the bottle of wine off to the other side. Then he would recite his poem as he crawled backwards and forwards between them, ever dithering, never arriving at either. As it was a dog ate the sausages and as he tried to rescue them, a bystander drank his bottle of wine.
As he stormed off he shouted, “I bet you five alars that you could no more organise a piece of performance art than you could fly!”
Well to be fair I thought no more about it until an hour later somebody dashed into the Misanthropes and announced Lancet had been arrested outside Murgaton’s offices. Apparently Lancet had been performing one of his pieces on Money-mongers’ Square. It’s in the Merchant Quarter and is almost entirely surrounded by the offices of major usurers, collection agents and official consignees. If you know the square you’ll know that wherever you stand you’ll be outside somebody’s offices. It just happened that Lancet was outside Murgaton’s. I doubt this was deliberate. After all, if Lancet might have wanted to offend, wasn’t interested in merely offending old Murgaton.
Apparently Murgaton sent a clerk out to ask Lancet to move along, and Lancet point blank refused. To be fair to old Murgaton, rather than just send the heavies who loiter politely by the door to deal with Lancet; the old man went out himself. Lancet, puffed up with righteous indignation told the usurer that he wasn’t going to move for somebody who’d sell his grandmother if the price was right.
Old Murgaton took umbrage at this and at this point he did summon the heavies. But rather than administer a salutary beating, they hauled Lancet into the offices. It’s at this point the legal complexities become baffling. Apparently the entire square is considered to be one large financial house, so internal financial regulations have the authority of law. Murgaton decided that Lancet had inflicted upon him twenty alars’ worth of offence. So he demanded the money and Lancet was locked upstairs in one of the lesser offices until he saw sense and paid.
Given that Lancet rarely has twenty dregs, never mind twenty alars, this debt wasn’t going to be repaid with any rapidity. So Murgaton pointed out that Lancet was being charged rent and board for the room and this would be added to his account. At some point they would be forced to sell his indenture to pay off the debt.
Now Lancet is one of the most profoundly irritating people I know, but I’ve known him an awfully long time. He and I were small children sleeping in the same stable. So I felt that something had to be done. Firstly I did the obvious thing. I stepped outside and asked the nearest small child where Mutt was. Five minutes later he joined me.
“Mutt, we are going to earn money and do good.”
He raised a cynical eyebrow. “How?”
“We are going to rescue Lancet Foredecks and he is going to pay us.”
As he still seemed unconvinced I laid before him the bare outlines of the plan. He pondered it briefly. “It’ll get ‘im out, but won’t mean he’ll pay.”
“It will be a debt of honour, of course he’ll pay. Anyway I’ll let you collect the money.”
Mutt shrugged and went off to find Shena so he could do his bit.

I now contacted other people. First was Calina Salin. As a small child she shared the same stable as Lancet and I. Of course she would help, especially when I pointed out there was money to be made. Because I was passing I called in to see my cousin Thela. She is a temple dancer at the Temple of Aea in her Aspect as the Personification of Chastity. Whilst feeling no particular tie of loyalty to Lancet, she too could see how she could raise money for the order. Also I suspect she just felt it could be fun.
Finally I went in search of the Gorris Brothers. I don’t know whether they are brothers, but I do know they are one of the best distraction teams in Port Naain. Given them money and they will fight each other, going hammer and tongs, until you want them to stop.
Thus with my preparations completed I made my way to Money-mongers’ Square. There I waited. The first to arrive was Calina with a small troupe of dancers. They proceed to work through a series of routines in the square. A crowd gathered, because, strangely enough, attractive young women wearing very little do tend to attract attention. After a while Calina ensured that a neatly scrubbed small child passed through the crowd with a collecting tin. To be fair, those gathered all contributed. Barely had this happened than Thela arrived with a company of temple dancers. They proceeded to work through their routines with vigour and precision. Also, unlike Calina, they had brought music, or at least tambourines. They too seemed to be accompanied by a number of entirely charming and well-scrubbed children armed with collecting buckets. Having seen Thela’s team make a collection, Calina summoned her girls to take the field once more. This time they were dancing to the rhythm of the competition’s instruments. Thus Calina led them in a faster and more virtuoso performance. Thela was not going to let Calina have things all her own way, so she too pushed her dancers to perform to another level. By now the square was filling nicely and I decided I better go into Murgaton’s before the square was so packed I couldn’t move. The downstairs of the usurer’s office is actually a reception hall where you can state your business to a variety of clerks and receptionists. Only if you have business of more than usual significance will you be asked to go upstairs to the individual offices. It has to be said that the hall was full of people trying to see out of the windows into the square. But I noted immediately with the crowded hall my two hirelings. I made a signal and the Gorris Brothers hurled themselves at each other, punching, kicking and shouting imprecations. I watched them for a minute or two and was genuinely impressed. This wasn’t just two people fighting whilst everybody watched. They took their fight to the audience. The whirling and kicking mass that was the brothers seemed to ricochet around the large reception hall. Even those with no interest in the fight had to watch it to ensure they weren’t suddenly entangled in it. First one, and then a second heavy tried to break the fight up. They might as well have attempted to stop the tide sweeping up the estuary. The Gorris Brothers are truly professional. The heavies were caught up in the fight, carried along as part of the brawl and were then spat out again. Finally somebody blew a whistle and every heavy, from wherever they were in the building, converged upon the reception hall.
At this point I quietly ascended the stairs, stepping aside as Mutt and some of his coterie rushed up past me. I went along the first floor, trying all the doors until I found one that was locked. I opened it with a crowbar I had with me and released Lancet from durance vile.
Arm in arm we companionably made our way back down the staircase. In the reception hall the Gorris Brothers had finally been cornered and would soon be ejected. I made another sign as Lancet and I passed out of the main door and into the square. One brother threw the other through a window and dived out after him, taking care not to cut himself on the broken glass.
Outside Lancet and I made our way across the square. He looked around. “Did you organise this?”
With becoming modesty I merely gestured back towards Murgaton’s. “The best is yet to come.”
Almost on cue, the windows on the top floor opened and Mutt and his colleagues let down a banner which read, “Come to Murgaton’s. Bring your grandmother so we can value her in case of impulse buyers.”
Before Lancet could comment I held out my hand. “I believe you owe me five alars. I feel I’ve organised a rather impressive piece of performance art.”
And now we’d better hear from Jim Webster.
So here I am again with another blog tour. I’ve released two collections of short stories from Tallis and if you’ve enjoyed the one you just read, you’ll almost certainly enjoy these.
So what have Tallis and I got for you?
Well first there’s, ‘Tallis Steelyard. A guide for writers, and other stories.’ The book that all writers who want to know how to promote and sell their books will have to read. Sit at the feet of the master as Tallis passes on the techniques which he has tried and perfected over the years. As well as this you’ll have music and decorum, lessons in the importance of getting home under your own steam, and brass knuckles for a lady. How can you resist, all this for a mere 99p.
Then we have, ‘Tallis Steelyard. Gentlemen behaving badly, and other stories.’ Now is your chance to see Port Naain by starlight and meet ladies of wit and discernment. There are Philosophical societies, amateur dramatics, the modern woman, revenge, and the advantages of a good education.
So come on, treat yourself, because you’re worth it.

Mother Mine – Tallis Steelyard

It has to be said that as a gentleman who works with many ladies of mature

years, I have discovered more than I really want to know about the

relationship a woman has with her mother. Some of these relationships are

good. As daughter grows older she comes to recognise the mother for the wise

lady she is, and as the mother grows older she recognises the sensible woman

her daughter has become.

Some are not so good, but few have been as troublesome as the relationship

Madam Rosamie had with her mother, known universally as the Dowager. For

some reason it appears that the Dowager held her daughter in supreme

contempt and made no secret of the fact. What made things difficult for

Madam Rosamie was that the Dowager was always so nice to everybody else.

Now I’m not sure at what age a girl will start buying her own underclothes.

Such matters are not ones that I’ve ever thought to ask about. But even into

her fifties Madam Rosamie would receive from her mother a large parcel of

nether garments. These were always for a lady two or three sizes larger,

made of a cheap scratchy material, and were in the sort of colours one would

only wear under three layers of black. Rosamie was left in a quandary, she

was not somebody who would wish to casually ‘throw something out’, but these

were garments she wouldn’t have inflicted upon a scullery maid. (Even if she

had one of the appropriate size.) The drawers she finally sent to a local

stable where they used them as hay nets for their horses. The brassieres she

gave to a local greengrocer who used them when he wished to put on a novelty

display of melons.

Now Madam Rosamie was a respectable widow with children of her own who were

old enough to have left home. She maintained quite a large household because

she enjoyed entertaining. So she had more kitchen maids and downstairs maids

than you might normally expect to find.

Not only that but because there was no gentleman of the house who might be

tempted into philandering, Madam Rosamie could hire pretty maids without any

fear of the consequences. Indeed the situation worked to her advantage as

pretty girls, realising the nature of the house, would often apply for jobs

with her.

Obviously it was something soon noticed, and at her soirees one would find

bemused ladies who were accompanied by sons and nephews, all of whom had

suddenly developed a passionate interest in the poetic art. As an aside I

might mention that several girls did make good and happy marriages.

Yet the Dowager stalked into the house, glanced round, and came to the

conclusion her daughter was running a bordello! Now I suppose people are

entitled to their own opinions. This is fair enough. But I feel that they

are not entitled to vent their opinions to the Watch. (Running an unlicensed

bordello is an offence)

Obviously the Watch had to get involved, and whilst courteous, they were

firm and needed to be convinced. The question has to be asked, whilst it is

doubtless easy enough to prove an establishment is a bordello, how exactly

does one prove it isn’t? Providing evidence that something isn’t happening

can be tricky.

Eventually the Watch realised the difficulty they had put Madam Rosamie

under and so they agreed that one of their officers, posing as an odd job

man, would live in for a period. This seemed fair to Madam, and Watchman

Pilkin moved in to a small box room. He turned out to be a real treasure. He

was a man who could fix virtually anything, and at the end of the fortnight,

Madam Rosamie insisted on paying him for the work he’d done, even though he

was also drawing his Watch pay. The maids were so sad to see him go they had

Cook bake a cake and there was something of a small leaving party for him on

his last day.

A week later he had to move back in. The Dowager, realising her strumpet of

a daughter had cozened the Watch, proceeded to advertise her daughter’s

putative establishment with discreet advertisements in appropriate

newssheets. Eventually she even had somebody walking ‘round the city with a

sandwich board. He would give passers-by handbills with graphic

illustrations for the illiterate.

Pilkin, now in full uniform, dealt with the situation. Initially he

courteously clarified the situation for the potential client. But when that

failed, as appropriate he became stern, mocking, and in three cases resorted

to percussive castigation with his truncheon. Eventually the word got ‘round

and the steady flow of potential customers finally dried up.

Still everything comes to the one who waits. Madam Rosamie was holding a

garden party and of course the Dowager attended. Now it appears that she had

spotted two of the servants sneaking off, so she followed them. In this case

it was the youngest maid and the boot boy, both of who were aged about

fourteen. Madam Rosamie and the rest of the staff of course knew about their

infatuation, but wisely pretended not to. At the same time, they maintained a

gentle watch over the activities of these two young people. In reality, this

is something quite easily accomplished as each generation, in the face of

all the evidence to the contrary, assumes that it is the first generation to

discover love. It never seems to occur to them that the older generations

have in their time tried all the same ploys that they are now attempting.

But the Dowager decided she would covertly follow the young couple with the

aim of catching them ‘in flagrante delicto.’ In this she was aided by the

fact that this part of the garden was a maze of winding paths and bowers.

The Dowager noticed that if she took a higher path, she could make her way

between two rose bushes and be in a position above and behind her prey.

Alas for the Dowager, the bushes were thicker than she’d expected, but there

was still a path of sorts. Unfortunately for her it was both steep and

slippery due to the rain. She skidded, lost her footing and rolled down the

steep slope becoming more and more tightly entangled in what was in reality,

a bramble patch.

Her struggles were to no avail, merely getting her more tightly entangled.

Fortunately, her two young potential victims heard her cries and ran to the

rest of the party to get help. Thus, it was that Madam Rosamie and I were the

two bold souls who discovered exactly what the problem was. I borrowed an

old pair of trousers from the junior footman, who used them when it was his

turn to clean the guttering on the roof. I added to it a jacket borrowed

from the gardener and cautiously I penetrated the maze. After almost

stumbling I returned to the top of the bank, acquired a rope, and had a

group of the heavier servants bracing themselves to support me as I made my

way down again.

When contemplating the situation, it initially seemed that the obvious answer

was just to tie a rope to the Dowager and pull her through what was left of

the brambles. After brief discussion this was discounted.

With a pair of secateurs, I tried to cut the brambles away from the

discomforted lady, but eventually I realised that this was fruitless. The

only option was to cut the clothing off the lady and pull her out of it,

abandoning it to the thorns.

This, as you can imagine, is a ticklish operation, especially with a lady

with whom you are in no way familiar. Still I somehow managed it without

outraging probity too much. I tied another rope around her ankles, took the

end up the bank to the now growing collection of guests and staff, and

arranged for them to pull while I returned to help guide the lady past

obstacles.

They had only pulled her about a foot before it was obvious we would have to

think again. The Dowager had got her hair entangled as well. By this time it

was raining heavily. The number of potential pullers was diminishing by the

minute and I would have to act swiftly. I asked for the clippers that the

cook used to cut the hair of male staff and applied them. Now I am no brute.

I didn’t cut all her hair off. I merely used the clippers on those patches

where the thorns were entangled. Finally, soaked and muddy I gave those

enthusiastic souls who had remained the order to pull heartily.

If a few minutes we had dragged the Dowager up the slope, got her onto the

path at the top, untied her legs, and her daughter, radiating a sort of

manically cheerful concern, escorted her into the salon. Here she was met by

the assembled guests who applauded her vigorously on her escape. Old towels

were fetched and she was allowed to sit down whilst a sedan chair was

summoned. This took her to the Goldclaw Baths. There she could get herself

clean, a hair dresser could doubtless be prevailed upon to do something to

her hair, and her maid could meet her there with a complete change of

clothing.

I might comment at this point that since the moment when she reached the

path and I untied her ankles, the Dowager has never addressed a word to me.

On the other hand Madam Rosamie speaks most highly about me to all her

friends, claims she cannot run any form of party without me in attendance,

and even, if we meet in town, will address me in affectionate terms as ‘My

dear Tallis.’

 

 

And the hard sell!

 

So welcome back to Port Naain. This blog tour is to celebrate the genius of

Tallis Steelyard, and to promote two novella length collections of his

tales.

 

So meet Tallis Steelyard, the jobbing poet from the city of Port Naain. This

great city is situated on the fringes of the Land of the Three Seas. Tallis

makes his living as a poet, living with his wife, Shena, on a barge tied to

a wharf in the Paraeba estuary. Tallis scrapes a meagre living giving poetry

readings, acting as a master of ceremonies, and helping his patrons run

their soirees.

These are his stories, the anecdotes of somebody who knows Port Naain and

its denizens like nobody else. With Tallis as a guide you’ll meet petty

criminals and criminals so wealthy they’ve become respectable. You’ll meet

musicians, dark mages, condottieri and street children. All human life is

here, and perhaps even a little more.

 

Firstly;-

Tallis Steelyard, Deep waters, and other stories.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B07PTS3FGS

 

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07PTS3FGS

 

More of the wit, wisdom and jumbled musings of Tallis Steelyard. Discover

the damage done by the Bucolic poets, wonder at the commode of Falan

Birling, and read the tales better not told. We have squid wrestling, lady

writers, and occasions when it probably wasn’t Tallis’s fault. He even asks

the great question, who are the innocent anyway?

 

And then there is;-

Tallis Steelyard. Playing the game, and other stories.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B07PV1N7XZ

 

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07PV1N7XZ

 

More of the wit, wisdom and jumbled musings of Tallis Steelyard. Marvel at

the delicate sensitivities of an assassin, wonder at the unexpected revolt

of Callin Dorg. Beware of the dangers of fine dining, and of a Lady in red.

Travel with Tallis as his poetical wanderings have him meandering through

the pretty villages of the north. Who but Tallis Steelyard could cheat death,

by changing the rules?

 

If you want to see more of the stories from the Land of the Three Seas, some

of them featuring Tallis Steelyard, go to my Amazon page at

 

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Jim-Webster/e/B009UT450I/

 

https://www.amazon.com/Jim-Webster/e/B009UT450I/

 

Tallis even has a blog of his own at https://tallissteelyard.wordpress.com/